Tear-free onion engineered

Gene jockeys have created a "tear-free" onion. According to the scientists from New Zealand's Crop and Food institute, the bioengineered onion lacks the enzyme that makes our eyes tear up. In 2002, Japanese researchers discovered the gene for the enzyme that the New Zealand scientists have now knocked out. This is such big news that it made the cover of the trade journal Onion World. Seriously. From the Agence France-Presse:
(Senior scientist Colin) Eady, who has several model onion plants at the institute, said despite the excitement about the prospect of "no tears" onions in every home, it would be 10 to 15 years before this happened.

"This is an exciting project because it's consumer orientated and everyone sees this as a good biotechnology story," he said.

"I'm more interested in sustainable production and the onions we are working on must be capable of being grown in an efficient manner.
Link (via Fortean Times)

Previously on BB:
• Onion-chopping goggles Link


  1. Considering I use onions for their flavor, I am not that concerned about the tears. My main concern is how these tear free onions would taste, what kind of onion they are, etc.

  2. Seriously, tear-free onions? That’s the problem the consumers are begging for? Hooray, let’s wrap everything in nerf foam and paint it bright orange for safety’s sake.

    This is probably seen as a revolutionary product by marketers. I’m sure there’s a poll that says “35% of consumers said they would eat more onions if they didn’t make them tear up while cutting them.” Those same people probably just don’t like onions and are merely choosing a convenient rationalization for their dislike.

    My answer to the marketplace: Sack up, you fucking wusses.

  3. I very rarely tear up when chopping onions in the first place – this problem can’t seriously be big enough to recieve this much attention?

  4. My stock in Monsanto just went up… whoo-hoo! I’d cry from happiness but my tear ducts shriveled up.

  5. Is this a form of test-tube engineering, or is it just engineering by selective breeding (and, I presume, possibly checking on the status of that gene post-breeding)?

  6. I, for one, think this is great. I have severe hay fever, and it wasn’t until I moved to the clean air of the Bay Area that my system cleared up enough for me to chop onions. Before that, they’d trigger an unstoppable flood of brine from my oculars, which often went on for 20 or 30 minutes after I got out of the kitchen.

  7. I wore contacts for about 5 years. I always assumed I had no problem with onions. The day I got my new glasses I suddenly realized my contacts where protecting me from a lot of pain. It’s really quite painful.

  8. @8: This uses gene silencing technology. Ergo, test-tube. It is relatively easy to knock out expression of a given gene, and is done all the time in research to understand the roles that gene plays in an organism’s biochemisty.

    @9: Have you tried cutting your onions under water? Seriously: run a few inches of water in the sink, put a plate in it, and cut the onions on the plate. It won’t reduce their emissions to zero, but it will reduce it significantly. In general, solutions that don’t require genetically engineered crops are preferable, I think.

  9. Hmmm…

    So, marketing can’t fix the mismatch of the numbers of hotdogs and hotdog buns in a package, but they can obssess over onions that don’t make people cry? Eath through the pain, I say.

    And how do they taste? Is the texture different? How many varieties of onion have been “fixed” and how many remain as tearful as before?

    Enquiring minds and all that – and by the way. With all the serious problems in the world, it’s good to know some of the geniuses are focused on IMPORTANT issues…

    Macabre Ink

  10. It’s hard to dice vegetables when you can’t see.

    Onions make me tear up so much that I’m literally blinded, now I could just “sack up” and chop the things blind, but I think I do a better job when I can see what I’m doing.

    When they hit the market in 10 years or so I’ll give them a try..

  11. I think the salient point here is this:

    “This is an exciting project because it’s consumer orientated and everyone sees this as a good biotechnology story,” he said.

    Also, I love to cook and I love onions, and this actually does seem like something useful for those of us with extremely sensitive reactions to sulfur. My eyes burn for almost a half an hour after chopping them (which I know sounds ridiculous, but it honestly feels like kitten claws in my eyeballs). As long as I can still get the variety of tasty onions I like to eat that won’t, you know, give you cancer, I don’t see why this is a bad thing.

  12. Now, if they could extract that enzyme from clowns I would better handle my raging Coulrophobia.

  13. I can deal with the onions, but what is to stop my eyes from tearing up when they see the word “orientated”?

  14. A simple solution to reducing the tearing factor is to cool the onions in the freezer or refrigerator. Take them out and chop them up. Or buy a $10 food chopper.

    It doesn’t take genetically modifying an onion, which we have no way of knowing how it will affect our bodies in the long run.

    Leave nature alone….

  15. Alternatively, place a teaspoon in your mouth when chopping onions… This will stop your lachrymal glands from working so no tears!!!

  16. Man… I have to say I hate seeing the word “orientated” being used there. Why can’t the rest of the world just use “oriented” like a normal person??

  17. Scientists are also working on a jalapeno pepper that doesn’t burn your tongue, a non-acidic grapefruit, and removing all that unpleasant excitement from orgasms.

  18. What’s funny about the comment to use onion goggles (which don’t seem to work for me), is that on the onion goggle post, most people thought they were a waste of time and that those of us with issues should just suck it up.

    But I guess the alternative is scarier.

  19. A third annoyed voice on ‘orientated’…

    Will removing the burning scent portion make them less healthy? Less tasty? If they do the same for garlic, will it still be able to ward off vampires?

    If you can bear the exposure, make a conical cut into the top of the onion and remove the portion that surrounds the stem, where it would have poked up through the ground. My understanding is that this is where the most eye-stabbing chemical resides. Cut it out and chuck it in the trash, leaving you with about 2/3 to 3/4 of the onion still left to chop up.

  20. “Gene Jockey” – that’s awesome, I’m going to add it to my c.v.

    I’m always ambivalent about seeing science news like this. There’s smugness because someone always makes a comment like “Still no cure for cancer”, which actually is my job, tinged with envy because the tearless onion guys will soon be very rich. Ho hum, maybe I’ll accidentally stumble on something lucrative while researching the big C.

    Oh, and “onion goggles”? I have a 14 year-old pair of swimming goggles tht work just fine for particularly vicious allia. After all, there’s nothing quite like sitting down to a home-cooked romantic dinner with still-fresh goggle marks around your eyes.

  21. I like the refreshed feeling when my eyes stop tearing and my nose stops running. And the burning makes me feel like I’m really doing something in the kitchen. (yes, for Lent I gave up complaining. and religion)

  22. Some of us don’t think this is a good idea. It’s one better than glow-in-the-dark slugs, but anytime you alter DNA structures you make unstable organisms, especially if you use the retroviral DNA approach, organisms which tend to swap genes with bacteria and other plants around them.

    If you have an allergy, use the water trick. Or hell, get the servants to do it. Just don’t play along with them borking our ecosystem.

  23. Great, they’ve removed the onion’s only natural defense mechanism! Poor, helpless onions! How can we live with ourselves?!

  24. @1 — “My main concern is how these tear free onions would taste, what kind of onion they are, etc.”

    Exactly. The most important factor in the quality of your food is how it is grown or raised, not what its genetics are. Onions, maybe not so much, but think about wine: wine made from syrah or pinot noir grapes varies tremendously depending on where and how they are grown, where and how they are made into wine. The genetic determinists at Monsanto disregard this and assume that all industrial food production is identical. I suspect that tear-free onions grown chemically are also nutrient-free and flavor-free, just as cloned beef that raised in the appalling American feedlots will be just as diseased and flavorless as its ordinarily-bred counterpart.

  25. Actually all you have to do to make tearless onions is grow them in sulfur free soil–aka Vidalia onions. Although they haven’t done a great job mapping sulfur content of soil in Vidalia and, consequently, you can get some with plenty of tears, when they don’t have tears, it is pretty neat.

  26. I find this rampant technophobia disturbing. Why are people so afraid of biotech?

    Please leave us to our looms in peace.

  27. I can deal with the onions, but what is to stop my eyes from tearing up when they see the word “orientated”?

    I see this all the time on BBC online. Is it British usage?

  28. I would like to quote Tina Fey from SNL back in 2002:

    “Scientists have identified an enzyme in onions that makes people tear up, which is the first step in creating genetically-modified onions that don’t make people cry. Hey, guys – AIDS! There’s still a lot of people dying of AIDS! Put the onion thing on the back burner, and cure AIDS!”

  29. 1) Scientists that do research in this area are unlikely to be qualified to do research into AIDS or cancer, so expecting them to come up with a cure is silly. Similarly, we don’t except AIDS researchers to come up with new kinds of carrots, stop global warming, develop a car that gets 1000mpg, or anything else they’re not qualified to do.

    2) I find that leaving the root (hairy) end of the onion un-chopped cuts the amount of tears significantly. Much better than the fridge, water, or spoon. If it doesn’t give you enough onion, just chop two, they’re cheap.

  30. @Korpo: Additionally, a duck would never be able to walk into a bar and speak to a bartender. True speech consists of two essential elements absent in duck populations. First, an organism has to be able to develop and phrase thoughts to be expressed. Second, the organism has to have the anatomical equipment with which to utter clear words that convey those thoughts. ;)

  31. @ Ted

    Snake wants to know, what sort of unstable organisms are you talking about? Are unstable like nitroglycerin, explode on contact? Or do they just fall off of shelves …

    But seriously, what do you mean? Do you have a reference? It’s outside my expertise, but sweeping claims like that arouse my suspicion.

  32. pro onion chopper tip:

    stand back.

    i went from someone who never teared when chopping onions to someone who was affected dramatically (maybe due to passing into adulthood and maybe due to having a different onion supply). i tried all the dumb tricks: cutting under water, freezing… still lots of agonizing pain until i realized i was always chopping onions with my face directly over them. i change my stance a little and voila! onions hurt less.

    also, stop monkeying with my foods please.

  33. Its always amusing to read the comments that invariably pop-up whenever there’s a story about scientists who have done something “trivial” in the eyes of the general population. As if all scientists work in one huge laboratory in the Pentagon and occasionally a group will sneak off from the main group working on cancer and AIDS and start messing with onions.

    Far less amusing is reading the comments that seem to stem from a profound misunderstanding about what genetic engineering actually entails. These scientists changed the expression of one gene, which means that your final onion is just as “naturally” intact as any other onion, sans one gene. Changing one gene is, in my eyes, a lot safer than breeding the plant over and over hoping to disinherit the gene by mutation.

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